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Photo credit: Climate Council

A hot air mass parked over central Australia is delivering the second brutal heat wave this month. January is quickly approaching a record-breaking month Down Under.

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In last eight years, nearly 70,000 birds have been killed in the New York City area to make the skies safer for air travel.

On Jan. 15, 2009, three minutes after takeoff from New York City's La Guardia Airport, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 hit a flock of Canada geese just northeast of the George Washington Bridge and lost all engine power. Remarkably, pilots Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles ditched the aircraft onto the Hudson River in midtown Manhattan. All passengers and crew, 155 people, escaped with only a few serious injuries.

It was the most successful ditching in aviation history known as the "Miracle on the Hudson."

Since then, the following birds have been eradicated by government agencies: 28,000 gulls, 16,800 European starlings, 6,000 brown-headed cowbirds, 4,500 mourning doves and approximately 1,800 Canada geese.

In the five years before the Hudson River emergency landing, there were 158 bird strikes per year. In the six years following the accident, 299 air strikes were recorded per year, according to statistics amassed by the Associated Press.

These numbers show that killing nearly 70,000 birds in 2009 did not reduce the number of airplane strikes. "There has to be a long-term solution that doesn't rely so extensively on killing birds and also keeps us safe in the sky," said Jeffrey Kramer, of GooseWatch NYC.

In 2016, New York's Port Authority signed a five-year, $9.1 million agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to research and manage the wildlife around the airports. This includes regularly shooting a laughing gull colony at nearby Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

According to Port Authority documents, "One must consider the consequences if this proven shooting program was discontinued and a serious bird strike occurred while the colony was still present."

However, there are many non-lethal methods that airports around the globe use to keep their runways free of birds.

Pyrotechnics are used daily at most airports to drive birds away.

"The flash, bang kind of stuff immediately gets their attention and pushes them away," Michael Begier, national co-ordinator of the airport wildlife hazards program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said.

Salt Lake City's airport has reduced the number of Canada geese by addling their eggs. "The goose is scared from the nest and the eggs are addled or oiled pretty much in place by picking each egg up individually and shaking them or submerging them in vegetable oil," Gib Rokich, who oversees the airport's wildlife program, remarked.

"The goose continues to sit on them but they never have a successful hatch. If she lays 10 goslings, and five survive into adulthood, then they will want to come back to the same location to nest, so you can see how it can multiply. After four years, we broke the cycle, so we still get the occasional one but they're not established any more."

UK airports use bird distress signals, which effectively clear runways. Speakers are mounted on vehicles that emit more than 20 different bird calls.

Since 1999, Fort Myers, Florida, has used dogs to keep birds away, successfully reducing bird strikes by 17 percent. "While the egrets, herons and moorhens can get use to pyrotechnics, they never adapt to the presence of a natural predator like dogs," Ellen Lindblad, director of planning and environmental compliance at Southwest Florida International Airport, said.

Salt Lake City's airport uses pigs to disrupt California gulls. Pigs trample and eat gull eggs, and each spring they are used to deter gull colonies. When the gulls arrive and see the pigs waiting to devour their eggs, they move on.

PavloBaliukh / iStock / Getty Images

Through net metering programs, homeowners who have installed solar energy systems can get utility credits for any electricity their panels generate during the day that isn't used to power home systems. These credits can be "cashed in" to offset the cost of any grid electricity used at night.

Where net metering is available, solar panels have a shorter payback period and yield a higher return on investment. Without this benefit, you only save on power bills when using solar energy directly, and surplus generation is lost unless you store it in a solar battery. However, net metering gives you the option of selling any excess electricity that is not consumed within your home.

Generally, you will see more home solar systems in places with favorable net metering laws. With this benefit, going solar becomes an attractive investment even for properties with minimal daytime consumption. Homeowners can turn their roofs into miniature power plants during the day, and that generation is subtracted from their nighttime consumption.

What Is Net Metering?

Net metering is a billing arrangement in which surplus energy production from solar panels is tracked by your electricity provider and subtracted from your monthly utility bill. When your solar power system produces more kilowatt-hours of electricity than your home is consuming, the excess generation is fed back into the grid.

For homeowners with solar panels, the benefits of net metering include higher monthly savings and a shorter payback period. Utility companies also benefit, since the excess solar electricity can be supplied to other buildings on the same electric grid.

If a power grid relies on fossil fuels, net metering also increases the environmental benefits of solar power. Even if a building does not have an adequate area for rooftop solar panels, it can reduce its emissions by using the surplus clean energy from other properties.

How Net Metering Works

There are two general ways net metering programs work:

  1. The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your utility company, and a credit is posted to your account that can be applied to future power bills.
  2. The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your home's electricity meter. Modern power meters can measure electricity flow in both directions, so they tick up when you pull from the grid at night and count down when your solar panels are producing an excess amount of electricity.

In either scenario, at the end of the billing period, you will only pay for your net consumption — the difference between total consumption and generation. This is where the term "net metering" comes from.

How Does Net Metering Affect Your Utility Bill?

Net metering makes solar power systems more valuable for homeowners, as you can "sell" any extra energy production to your utility company. However, it's important to understand how charges and credits are managed:

  • You can earn credits for your surplus electricity, but utility companies will not cut you a check for the power you provide. Instead, they will subtract the credits from your power bills.
  • If your net metering credit during the billing period is higher than your consumption, the difference is rolled over to the next month.
  • Some power companies will roll over your credit indefinitely, but many have a yearly expiration date that resets your credit balance.

With all of this in mind, it is possible to reduce your annual electricity cost to zero. You can accumulate credit with surplus generation during the sunny summer months, and use it during winter when solar generation decreases.

You will achieve the best results when your solar power system has just the right capacity to cover your annual home consumption. Oversizing your solar array is not recommended, as you will simply accumulate a large unused credit each year. In other words, you cannot overproduce and charge your power company each month.

Some power companies will let you pick the expiration date of your annual net metering credits. If you have this option, it's wise to set the date after winter has ended. This way, you can use all the renewable energy credits you accumulated during the summer.

Is Net Metering Available Near You?

Net metering offers a valuable incentive for homeowners to switch to solar power, but these types of programs are not available everywhere. Net metering laws can change depending on where you live.

In the U.S., there are mandatory net metering laws in 38 states and Washington, D.C. Most states without a mandate have power companies that voluntarily offer the benefit in their service areas. South Dakota and Tennessee are the only two states with no version of net metering or similar programs.

If net metering is available in your area, you will be credited for your surplus energy in one of two ways:

  • Net metering at retail price: You get full credit for each kilowatt-hour sent to the grid. For example, if you're charged 16 cents per kWh consumed, you'll get a credit of 16 cents per kWh exported. This type of net metering is required by law in 29 states.
  • Net metering at a reduced feed-in tariff: Surplus electricity sent to the grid is credited at a lower rate. For example, you may be charged 16 cents per kWh for consumption but paid 10 cents per kWh exported. Feed-in tariffs and other alternative programs are used in 17 of the states where retail-rate net metering is not mandatory.

Note: This is just a simplified example — the exact kWh retail price and solar feed-in tariff will depend on your electricity plan.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about net metering and other solar power incentives in your state. You can also look for information about solar incentives by visiting the official websites of your state government and utility company.

Other Financial Incentives for Going Solar

Net metering policies are one of the most effective incentives for solar power. However, there are other financial incentives that can be combined with net metering to improve your ROI:

  • The federal solar tax credit lets you claim 26% of your solar installation costs as a tax deduction. For example, if your solar installation had a cost of $10,000, you can claim $2,600 on your next tax declaration. This benefit is available everywhere in the U.S.
  • State tax credits may also be available depending on where you live, and they can be claimed in addition to the federal incentive.
  • Solar rebates are offered by some state governments and utility companies. These are upfront cash incentives subtracted directly from the cost of your solar PV system.

In addition to seeking out solar incentives available to you, you should compare quotes from multiple installers before signing a solar contract. This will ensure you're getting the best deal available and help you avoid overpriced offers and underpriced, low-quality installations. You can start getting quotes from top solar companies near you by filling out the 30-second form below.

Frequently Asked Questions: Solar Net Metering

Why is net metering bad?

When managed correctly, net metering is beneficial for electricity consumers and power companies. There have been cases in which power grids lack the capacity to handle large amounts of power coming from homes and businesses. However, this is an infrastructure issue, not a negative aspect of net metering itself.

In places with a high percentage of homes and businesses using solar panels, surplus generation on sunny days can saturate the grid. This can be managed by modernizing the grid to handle distributed solar power more effectively with load management and energy storage systems.

How does net metering work?

With net metering, any electricity your solar panels produce that isn't used to power your home is fed into your local power grid. Your utility company will pay you for this power production through credits that can be applied to your monthly energy bills.

Can you make money net metering?

You can reduce your power bills with net metering, using surplus solar generation to compensate for your consumption when you can't generate solar power at night and on cloudy days. However, most power companies will not pay you for surplus production once your power bill has dropped to $0. Normally, that credit will be rolled over, to be used in months where your solar panels are less productive.

On very rare occasions, you may be paid for the accumulated balance over a year. However, this benefit is offered by very few electric companies and is subject to limitations.

The combined wealth of eight men is greater than the poorest 3.6 billion people, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam International.

This is a massive jump from last year's estimate, which cited the world's 62 richest people having a combined wealth equal to the poorest 50 percent of the population on the planet.

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Acquired Jan. 7 - 10. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Extreme weather, from drought to heavy downpour, lambasted much of California over the last couple of weeks.

An atmospheric river brimming with moisture, known as the "Pineapple Express," brought tropical Hawaiian water to California with some of the worst flooding since 2005. The river can carry up to 15 times the equivalent volume of the Mississippi River. According to NASA, "Between 30 and 50 percent of the annual precipitation in the western U.S. comes from just a few atmospheric river events."

Atmospheric River Soaks California

More than 350 billion gallons of water poured into Northern California reservoirs last week. Reservoirs from Mount Shasta to Lake Tahoe filled faster than any time since 1922. Lake Shasta is the state's largest reservoir, a crucial water source enabling agriculture in the otherwise dry San Joaquin Valley. Lake Shasta is now 82 percent full.

Fifteen feet of snow fell on Mammoth Mountain in the eastern Sierras from Jan. 6 to 11. Kirkwood Ski Resort added 11 feet of snow in five days. Since Oct. 1, precipitation in the Sierra Nevada has been on pace with 1982-83, northern and central Sierra, and 1968-69, southern Sierra, as the wettest winters on record in modern times.

With the extreme rainfall came deadly mudslides, torrential flooding and hurricane-force winds. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes. At least four fatalities are linked to rain, snow, mudslides and flooding.

Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Olympic Valley recorded a record-breaking 173-mph wind gust at its 8,700-foot peak. That's equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, which rips buildings off their foundations.

The National Weather Service reported a tornado that tore through the community of South Natomas in the state's capitol Sacramento. It left a half-mile swath of destruction, shredding trees, and leveling metal awnings and a fence.

Though rainfall from December to late February is the normal pattern, San Francisco received more rain in the first eight days of January than it did during all of 2013.

"What's happening in the Bay Area is unusual," Tom Fisher, weather specialist for the National Weather Service in Oxnard, told the Los Angeles Times.

Heavy rains and winds in northern California took their toll in Calaveras Big Tree State Park, 90 miles east of Sacramento. A giant Sequoia named "Tunnel Tree" lost its footing and came crashing to the Earth.

More than 40 percent of the state is no longer in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Most of that area accounts for Northern California and the Sierra Nevada.

Despite the staggering amounts of precipitation from the Pineapple Express, parts of Southern California received no measurable rainfall. As a result, those drought stricken areas doubled from 18 percent to almost 35 percent.

"The drought has not let up on the Central Coast," said David Matson, assistant general manager of the Goleta Water District.

Los Angeles and Orange Counties along with parts of central California are officially still experiencing "extreme drought." While Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties remain in "exceptional drought." Santa Barbara's Lake Cachuma added a meager 3 percent to its water levels, which is only 11 percent full.

With more precipitation forecasted for next week, water-starved Southern California could get a reprieve.

More moisture will also help California's parched forests. Over the last five years, 102 million trees have died from water starvation and bark beetle infestations.

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